Opinion: Signature collection is far from the "will of the people"
At the recent Michigan Supreme Court hearing on the Legislature’s decision to adopt and amend the Paid Sick Leave and Minimum Wage ballot proposals, the phrase of the day by advocates was that this action “thwarted the will of the people."
Last year, the Small Business for a Better Michigan Coalition was successful in persuading the Legislature to adopt and make changes to two ballot initiatives that would have imposed the most stringent paid sick leave and minimum wage employer mandate in the country. The changes included an exemption from the paid sick leave mandate for an employer with less than 50 employees.
At issue is whether the Michigan Constitution allows the legislature to adopt, and then amend, a ballot initiative in the same session. The Small Business for a Better Michigan Coalition also previously filed amicus briefs on both the Paid Sick Leave and Minimum Wage changes with the state Supreme Court, asking them to act and resolve any question of constitutionality in the legislature’s favor.
The justices asked many questions of the attorneys representing both sides of the issue to divine what the framers of the 1963 Constitution had in mind concerning the power of the Legislature to adopt and amend an initiative proposal in the same session. One question that was not asked was this: Did the framers of the 1963 Constitution ever imagine that the collection of signatures to put a proposal before the voters would become a lucrative business enterprise, where companies would offer to collect all the signatures needed for a fee?
Which bring us to the claims by the ballot proposal advocates that “the will of the people was thwarted." If the “will of the people” is for sale to the highest bidder, then the advocates might have some credibility in their claim. The signatures used to put these proposals on the ballot were collected by firms that paid signature gatherers per signature collected. The lion’s share of the money to fund this venture was provided by out-of-state big labor and progressive political groups.
In addition, the majority of the signatures collected were from just three populous counties in the state, and the total of all signatures was only 8% of the voters in the 2016 elections.
While this process for collecting signatures to put proposals on the ballot is legal and has become a commonplace tactic used by groups of all political persuasions it is disingenuous at best to claim it is the “will of the people."
In contrast, the Legislature was duly elected to represent their constituents from every voting precinct, in every city, county and township in the state. To suggest that they are somehow less representative of the popular will than a bought-and-paid-for petition drive by special interest groups is ludicrous.
This is also likely why the framers of the 1963 Constitution intended for the Legislature to have the ability to step in and amend an extreme and irresponsible initiative proposal that could do harm to the state and its citizens.
Charlie Owens is the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan, and a co-chair of the Small Business for a Better Michigan Coalition.